Welcome back to the Critical Hit Awards for book reviews. This is a round-up, a recommended reading list, and—why not?—a terribly prestigious and coveted prize. Nominate your favorite review of the month by tweeting it at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit or cast your vote in the comments section below.
As book reviews migrate from print publications to the digital wackosphere, the fear is that they’re becoming colloquial, improvised, and their quality is suffering. This month’s winners prove that’s not necessarily the case. On the dreaded web, book reviews can be colloquial, improvised, and still excellent as works of criticism. Even as they speculate about the “dead friends” who haunt a poet with their influence (as Ali Shapiro does) or embed a slew of James Brown videos from YouTube (as does Philip Eil), today’s best criticism doesn’t sacrifice anything.
Thanks to @Review31 for nominating a book review this month!
Applying a light touch to some rather heavy poems (about kids doing heroin, for one thing) Ali Shapiro shows how approachable Michael Dickman’s work can be, and in the process accomplishes the near-miraculous feat of making a book of contemporary poetry sound like essential reading for everyone.
Jen Vafidis uses her review to mark Amelia Gray’s transformation from an exciting writer of short stories to a singular author in full command of her work. “Coyness about plot in deference to the beauty and urgency of people’s thoughts is exactly what excites about Amelia Gray’s fiction. With Threats, she’s found a way to use suspense and do what she wants with it.”
A self-described “funk nerd,” Philip Eil seems like the last person who needs to read a biography of James Brown. He already knows everything about the Godfather of Soul. So in reviewing RJ Smith’s new biography he plays the part of a diehard fan, cheering and booing from the front row.
Read a good review lately? Nominate it for a Critical Hit Award by tweeting it at @electriclit with the hashtag #criticalhit or cast your vote in the comments section below.
– Brian Hurley is over here.